Monday, January 26, 2009

Car torchings probed as possible hate crime



STOCKTON - Gary Lazer was awakened Friday morning by the sound of an explosion and rose quickly enough to see his neighbor's car, aflame, tossed into the air by a second blast.

Lazer called around to warn that his neighbor's car was on fire.

"I hate to tell you this, but so is yours" was the response, he said.

It was about 3:30 a.m., and both cars had been vandalized and then torched; the sidewalk had been spray-painted with racist graffiti.

Police are investigating to determine if the incident meets standards to qualify as a hate crime.

"We're taking this very seriously, and we're investigating this as a potential hate crime," said Officer Pete Smith, a spokesman for the Stockton Police Department.

Lazer, who is white, and his wife, who is African-American, have lived in their home in the 7400 block of Shoreham Place for 11 years. The neighborhood has a "good mixture" of cultures and ethnicities, and Lazer's family has not had trouble before, he said.

"This really came out of the blue," he said. "We don't have any enemies. We stay to ourselves and get along with the neighbors."

But Lazer is certain his family and his neighbor's family were targeted, and it was no out-of-control prank, he said.

Police have bolstered patrols in the neighborhood, Lazer said, but he is still concerned for his family's safety.

"Everything could have gone up," he said.

And he has a simple message for those who attacked him.

"We're not different," he said. "We're not your enemy. We're citizens of this city, and you have nothing to fear from us."

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Stockton Police Department at (209) 937-8377.

Contact reporter Christian Burkin at (209) 546-8279 or

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